The "Wild West" as a graphic novel: A slightly different Karl May

Gunslinger in crisis mode: Comic author Bruno Duhamel deconstructs myths of the “Wild West” in his western parody “False Stalks”.

comic clip.  In the image above, people are taking photos with their smartphones, below you can see that they are photographing a cowboy on a horse

In "On the Trail" Frank is the tourist version of a gunslinger in America today Photo: Avant Verlag

The role of Jake "Wild Faith" Johnson is tailor-made for Frank. For 15 years, the owner of a proud mustache has embodied the supposedly heroic western legend from the 19th century in the tourist town of Woodstone, Arizona. Together with the poker player "Doc", the Marshall Jake appears in a show against "Butch" and his bandit gang at the "Dead Horse Corral" for a gunfight so that they no longer terrorize Woodstone.

But at the age of 40, Frank is fired by the boss of the Wild West show because he accuses him of identifying too much with his role. The expulsion represents for Frank Paterson jr. represent a caesura.

Spontaneously, he joins a tourist bus group that travels through Monument Valley - and is faced with new challenges, as progressive opinions and reactionaries collide hard in the group.

The French comic artist Bruno Duhamel, born in 1975, is still an insider tip in this country. The artist is already a fixture in his home country. He has tried himself in many series formats and genres such as science fiction ("Die Zeitbrigade", published in German by All Verlag) or crime ("Harlem", not translated into German), mostly based on scenarios by other authors.

Of hermits and outsiders

In recent years, Duhamel has concentrated on drawing graphic novels (all of which he designed for the large-format album format) and now writes his scenarios himself. His pointedly told stories take up current, socially critical topics and usually revolve around a "lone fighter" - mostly a grim recluse or misfit rooted in a geographically fixed rural region.

Duhamel obviously enjoys drawing such slightly bizarre but quite lifelike characters and developing complex personalities from them. Last year, Avant-Verlag brought out such a one-shot Duhamels for the first time: "Never", the dense character study of a 95-year-old, stubborn lady who no longer wants to leave her house on the Normandy coast, even though the cliffs are growing from year to year years eroded and threatens to tear her house into the abyss.

Duhamel continues on this path with "False Tracks". Again, a loner is in the center, almost a picture book example of a western hero. However, Frank is only at first glance, since he is only the decal of the (alleged) legend, a tourist version of a gunslinger in America today.

Because the unemployed fake gunfighter changes sides and becomes a tourist himself with the help of his severance pay. He will now explore the West himself, having never left his birthplace of Woodstone before. Comic author Duhamel thus questions the western United States and its often idealized legends. They mostly have little to do with the (historical) realities.

Illustration of a divided society

So the tourists argue about whether the famous pathetic speech of "Grand Chief Seattle" (an Indian legend invented by Duhamel) was really given that way. Or whether it's an adaptation of a 1970s TV series, as Wikipedia-educated Frank claims. Duhamel takes such confrontations to extremes with analytical sharpness and biting, satirical humor.

The group of tourists becomes a reflection of today's divided American society. Well-meaning democrats and native understanders face Frank (who vacillates between down-to-earth and unrealistic) and a tough ex-marine. The latter reveals himself to be a gun fetishist and supporter of conspiracy theories.

Duhamel overdraws his characters to reveal their abysses. And he puts pointed dialogue on their tongues that offer different perspectives on the history of the American settlers and their Disclose conflicts with First Nations. The façade of the Wild West continues to crumble as you read.

This leads to polarization in the tourist group, which almost inevitably seem to erupt in violence. Frank's horizons are also broadened by a drug dream in which he meets the real Jake "Wild Faith" Johnson, who is not at all what Frank had in mind.

Bruno Duhamel manages the feat of surprising the reader with narrative tricks and a good dose of humor with "Falsche Tracking". On a couple of spreads and big splash panels, he also proves that he the barren beauty of the west in an impressive way knows how to capture in his drawings.

In the introduction to the book, the illustrator explains that he wants to “settle a score with the Western genre”. And at the same time admits that he has never been to the Wild West himself.

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